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  • My run to freedom was 35 years ago this week. I'd left the ship the week before, and was just laying low in my apartment near the beach. I was experiencing a burst of creativity – keeping a journal, writing poetry, and had determined that I would write a book about my experiences, about my journey to freedom. I would call it “What a Trip!”, taken from the Grateful Dead song “Truckin’” (“What a long, strange trip it’s been”).

    So, I got on the Greyhound Bus, bound for Portland, Oregon, with Norma Jean, who I'd met on the beach a couple days before. We'd just hit it off, and she was looking for a travelling companion. I needed to get out of Dodge, so the deal was sealed.

    I was close to broke after paying for the ticket, but she'd said that her brother in Portland could probably find me a job. She also indicated that they had a large 2 bedroom apartment there that I could crash in until I got settled. The only plan I had was to try to find a job, crash where I could, and hang out there until 30 days had passed, then make my way down to the San Francisco Bay area and turn myself in to the authorities at Treasure Island Naval Base.

    As the bus made its way west, we were having fun, talking with a number of folks around us and getting to know each other. I was really into her, but she had said she had a boyfriend, so there wasn’t any sex involved. I figured that I might eventually get her to forget the boyfriend, but in the meantime, we were just having fun.

    The driver seemed to be getting more and more irritated with us as the trip progressed. I guess we might have been a little noisy at times, but we were just doing our best to pass the time on a long journey west. At one point, somewhere in Nebraska, he issued a warning that whoever was smoking the funny-smelling cigarettes needed to cease immediately or they would be thrown off the bus. The implication was that someone was smoking pot, which wasn’t the case. (There actually had been some of that going on earlier in the trip, at different stops along the way). A guy sitting a couple seats in front of us was just smoking a French cigarette called “Gaulois”. I thought I would be helpful, and went up to tell the driver this.

    He apparently had had enough of me, and let me know it, promptly pulling the bus over to the shoulder of the highway, opening the doors, and yelling at me to get my stuff and get off. I was stunned! Jean freaked out and wanted to come with me, but I told her to stay on the bus, and I would try to catch up with her down the road. It happened so quickly, I didn’t even think about the fact that I didn’t have an address for where we were going in Portland, I didn’t have her phone number, or even a last name.

    I would never see her again after that. I hitchhiked into the next little town along the road, and somehow wound up in a lawyer’s office, where I inquired as to what I could do to get back on a greyhound bus to Portland, as I had paid for a ticket to there, and felt that I had been wrongly discharged from the bus, and in an unsafe manner.

    The lawyer made a couple of calls, and told me that Greyhound was going to send the next bus heading west into town to pick me up, which is what happened. I took his card, promising to pay him back for his services, but he just laughed and said not to worry about it, he was glad to help out a veteran. I, of course, had not gone into the details about my AWOL situation or any of that, I’d told him I had just recently gotten discharged and was travelling with my girlfriend out to Portland.

    As I resumed my bus journey, everything had now changed. I was now trying to figure out how I would catch up with Jean. She was a couple of hours ahead of me, and I just hoped that she would get off at some point and wait for the next bus. After a few states, I realized that it was a hopeless situation, and that I was just pretty much on my own.

    Where this journey had started out in great fun and comraderie on the first bus, and I was travelling with a pretty girl who shared my sense of adventure, my mood had now changed considerably. I was now overwhelmingly lonely, I was out of money by the time the bus reached Casper, Wyoming, and had no idea how I would feed myself when I got to Portland.

    The beauty of the countryside rolling by was compelling, but all I could think about was how I was possibly going to survive for the next month. I was really on my own. Somewhere between Casper and Boise, Idaho, I met up with another girl on the bus, and told her my tale of getting thrown off the previous bus and losing touch with my travelling companion. She took a liking to me and invited me to come stay with her and some friends in Portland until I got myself situated. That sounded like a fine plan to me.
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